Christianity 201

September 25, 2020

From Grazing in a Field to Feasting at a Table

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The Lord is my shepherd…
…You prepare a table before me…
Psalm 23

Sometimes the search for new authors to introduce here takes me to some rather unusual places. Rabbi Pesach Wolicki serves as Associate Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding & Cooperation in Jerusalem www.CJCUC.com. In the title for the post from which today’s quote is drawn, he asks the question, Since When do Sheep Sit at a Table?

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies

This is the standard translation of Psalm 23 verse 5. A glance at one of the numerous Bible translation websites that provides lists of all the many translations shows very little difference from this exact version. However, a close and careful reading of the Hebrew original of this verse reveals that not only is this standard translation imprecise; but the deeper meaning of the verse is lost in these translations.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

The Hebrew word NEGED does, in fact, usually mean “in the presence of” it also means “opposite” or “against”. In other words, NEGED often implies a confrontational stance. The fact that this nuance is what is intended in our verse is clear from the phrase before it:

You prepare a table before me

The word for before me – LEFANAI – also means “in front of” – but not ever in a confrontational way. If our verse meant that the Lord provides a table before me, which is also in front of my enemies, the same word should have been used for both. The choice to change from one word to another tells us that the implication and connotation of the two words is different.

Complicated? Let me sum this up and make things simple.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; can easily be understood as a kind of peace offering. A table is set before me and my enemies for us to sit together and peacefully resolve our differences. But the change from LEFANAI – before me – to NEGED – opposite / in front of tells us what is really going on. To understand further we must understand what preparing a table means in Scripture.

From there he continues looking at the table imagery — I encourage you to read the full article — and also the phrase which follows, about anointing with oil. Then he returns to the earlier topic.

…I’d like to draw our attention to a remarkable transition that took place in our Psalm. And we may not have noticed.

Remember the beginning of the psalm when the Lord was described as a shepherd? Well, if the Lord is a shepherd, then we are sheep. In fact, in verse 2 the psalmist refers to himself grazing in green pastures. This is not exactly something most humans would find too appetizing. The Hebrew word in verse 2 for “He lays me down in green pastures” YARBITZEINI is actually a word that refers throughout Scripture only to animals laying down. (e.g. Genesis 49:9,14; Exodus 23:5)

In other words, in the opening verses of Psalm 23 we are sheep and the Lord is a shepherd.

And then here in verse 5 we are sitting at a table. We are drinking from a cup. What happened to the animal imagery? Since when do sheep sit at tables and drink from cups?

But it is this transition that teaches us deeper lesson of Psalm 23.

At times we are as fully dependent and as clueless as sheep. This is not a very mature relationship with the Lord. We are sheep. We wander. We seek comfort. Our goals are not much beyond food and a comfortable place to lay down or drink. Sheep are not beasts of burden. They do not serve the shepherd or bear any of the burdens of his work. They are selfish beings who are being cared for. The Lord’s relationship to us is focused on keeping us safe and well fed.

But this is not the ideal relationship to God. There is a higher, more meaningful relationship to Him. We are no longer sheep. We are human beings created in His image. We are aware. We battle our enemies. We defeat them with the help of the strength and confidence that God provides for us. He does not do all the work. We are his anointed agents to defeat evil.